Hot off the presses is Jeff Cohen’s book Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. Cohen, for my money, is the most effective progressive to appear on talking-heads TV. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, his only regular gig was a several-year stint on the Fox cable show News Watch. But that was a once-a-week, 30-minute show that he shared with a host and his three co-panelists. What he needs is his own hour-long show five nights a week. He left the Fox show to take a job at MSNBC as one of the producers of Phil Donahue’s show. The year or so there is the depressing heart of Cohen’s book, as corporate suits refused to let Phil be Phil. The show became a sick joke, with Donahue reduced to the pathetic role of legitimizing one right-wing nut after another, as I explained in the Jan. 8, 2003 essay Defensive Donahue Needs to Go On the Offensive or Get Off the Air. My one big problem with Cohen’s generally excellent book (which is chock full sharp observations) is that he’s far too kind to Phil. Unlike Jeff, Phil was an incompetent advocate for his causes — such as preventing the looming, wholly unnecessary U.S. invasion of Iraq — as I show in that essay. During his stint at MSNBC, Donahue wouldn’t have recognized an effective talking point if it smacked him upside the head.
My second recommended read was published back in 1979; I picked it up at the library a few weeks ago. Second Wind is Bill Russell’s fascinating life story and wide-ranging insights on race, politics, relationships, foreign policy and basketball. The Celtic legend’s literary collaborator on the volume is Taylor Branch, who later came to fame for a series of books on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Russell revolutionized basketball when he invented — and made a science of — shot-blocking at the U. of San Francisco in the mid-1950s and turned it into an art form in Boston, where he led the Celts to 11 NBA titles in his 13 seasons. Today’s long and limber centers should heed his defensive wisdom and ignore the directives of coaches who want them to turn every opposition drive into an ugly block/charge collision. Such directives explain why the modern center is constantly plagued with foul trouble.